Reluctant Valor: Invictus

He was not a knight in shinning armor, but a soldier with little to lose. She was not a maiden in distress, but a hardened warrior with a tragic past. It was not an unexpected journey in a fairyland; it was war. In a world not too different from ours, Atticus Lincoln and Clara Patton grew up to become soldiers of the Republic, but when humanity declared war on Atlantis, Atticus would discover something far more sinister, while Clara would have to come in terms with her past that she tried to forget. [will update every 2-3 weeks]

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1. Prologue

Prologue

The Republic, though young, had been embroiled in wars and revolutions. Started out as a safe haven for those who wished to escape the war torn continent of Canterbury, expeditions by different kingdoms were made to cross the vast land of Atlantis to settle in the new world. The Republic, once a colony like the rest of its neighbors, in its brief history had gone through a violent revolution to gain independence from the colonizers, then followed by a bloody civil war that threatened to tear the Republic into pieces. Though the existing government gained victory, albeit a pyrrhic one, it had been plagued by provocations and raids from the other former colonies located on its south for decades. Nonetheless, compared to the Revolution and Civil War, the post war era seemed to be relatively peaceful, something the Pastor had told Atticus Lincoln to be thankful for.

There were only two persons of significance in Atticus' childhood. The first one was the good Pastor who took in Atticus and raised the troubled kid in his orphanage. Atticus knew little about his family due to his parents' untimely passing, yet as a child he was once fascinated by his last name when he found out he share the name Lincoln with a Republic hero of the old age. Though he realized that there was no way they could be related, he would conjure lies of his lineage to boast in front of his peers, which would always result with him reprimanded by the Pastor, and further separating him from his peers. However, he was always comforted by the fact that his father was an officer in the military.

The other person of significance was Clara Patton, a girl of same age as Atticus. Compared to Clara, the impulsive and loud mouthed Atticus seemed relatively normal. Unlike Atticus and the inhabitant of the orphanage, Clara was brought in when she was ten; she had lived with her mother in a town nearby. She knew nothing about her father who had been absent for her entire life. In fact, the last name Patton belonged to her mother, hence making her father a more mysterious figure. Initially, Clara's abrupt entrance into the orphanage wasn't noticed by any of her peers. From her first day at the orphanage, Clara had become an alarmingly reserved girl who would sit at the back of the classroom or the corner of the playground by herself. She made no attempt to speak to anyone, let alone making friends. No one exactly knew her background nor the reasons behind her solitude.

Atticus knew nothing, nor paid attention to her in the beginning, not until the first Christmas Clara spent in the orphanage. It was a cold winter evening; and while most of the inhabitants were sleeping comfortably in their respective quarters, Atticus ran his routine of sneaking into the kitchen through a secret spot he found. It wasn't his first time doing so, and of course he had been caught a couple of times before. As for that night, young Atticus expected that nothing extraordinary would happen.

Except what went on that very evening would be a harbinger of something special.

After grabbing a couple of dessert treats, he snuck past a window that overlooked the playground. From the corner of his eyes Atticus saw a shadow of someone sitting on a bench covered by snow. Instantly he ducked down, thinking it was the Pastor taking his evening stroll. As he lifted up to check again, he noticed the shadow was still there, except it wasn't the Pastor. It belonged to the frail figure of a girl with long, dark auburn hair gazing blankly at the ground.

Atticus was not acquainted with Clara at all, and though curious of her intentions he tried to ignore her, knowing his chance of getting caught will increase if he paid any attention to her. At the same time, something within him, probably his conscience stopped him from leaving.

It wasn't long before Atticus snuck outside into the freezing winter, and at first cautious, he found the courage to sit next to the lonely girl on the bench. Atticus nervously gazed towards Clara, who continued to stare blankly. After a few moments of awkwardness, Atticus decided to break the silence.

"You got gut sneaking out to the playground in the middle of the night. I will give you that." Still, no response came out from Clara.

"Look, I don't know what you are doing here, whether you are waiting for something to pop up from the snow or not, please don't tell the Pastor that you have seen me," Atticus tried again with an idiotic grin. Expecting no reply from Clara, Atticus sighed and turned away, but was shocked to hear the frail girl suddenly responded.

"Every Christmas, mama will always be there to cuddle with," Clara said weakly. It was the first time he had heard her to actually speak.

"We had nothing, but I was still warm because mama would be there for me," she continued. Atticus noticed that a drop of tear rolled down her cheek. "It is my first winter alone. I am cold"

Atticus turned to Clara with his jaw opened. Though he had been an orphan as long as he remembered and did not know the warmth his parents could provide him, he could not help but feel sorry for her. He knew he could never understand how she was feeling at that very moment, and he didn't exactly know how to comfort her. He watched as Clara continued to quiver as tears were rolling down her cheeks.

Without hesitation, Atticus slid his hand inside his sack and pulled out a sweetened bun he took from the kitchen earlier. He handed to Clara, who seemed surprised at his gesture.

"Eat it," Atticus said as he found his voice to be also shaking, "I noticed that you didn't eat anything at dinner just now. I am sure your mom won't want to see you like this"

Gingerly, Clara took the bun and for the first time she turned towards Atticus and matched his hazel eyes with her shiny green ones. She took a small bite, and soon she quietly wolfed down the entire bun.

Though Atticus planned to savor the remaining one later, he passed his other bun to her. Still surprised at his gesture, Clara took it, tore it in half and passed a piece back to Atticus, who accepted it after feeling his cheeks warmed from blushing.

"Thank you," Clara said. For the first time in Atticus life, someone other than the Pastor was genuinely appreciative of Atticus's presence.

"I am Atticus by the way," Atticus said after remembering he had not introduced himself at all. "Atticus Lincoln. Not related to any historical leaders though." He added last part sheepishly to cheer up Clara, who had yet to wipe her tears off.

"I am Clara Patton," the girl replied. By now she seemed more lively than before, but still quivering from the snow. Noticing that, Atticus stood up and yanked softly at his companion's sleeve to pull her up as well.

"Come one," Atticus said, "lets get you inside."

----------

The Pastor had a habit of waking up in the middle of his sleep almost every night. After being the caretaker of an orphanage for decades, he understood that such habit was necessary given that kids like Atticus tend to become more troublesome the later it got. As he strolled down to the common room which served as a living room for all the children, he found someone sleeping by the fire place. He walked closer and found Atticus slumping on a sofa with Clara sleeping with her head on Atticus' shoulder. Normally the Pastor would instantly reprimand any kids out of their quarters after lights off.

But not tonight, the Pastor thought, as he took off his jacket and covered the two children. As he walked back towards his bedroom, he turned around and smiled.

"I wish your father can see you now", he whispered.

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